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Putin Calls for Russian Space Industry Upgrade

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 01:03 PM)

In a terse story today, Russia's government news agency Itar-Tass reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels the Russian space industry structure needs "upgrading" and personnel shifts may be part of it.

According to the report, Putin asked Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Russian space agency (Roscosmos) head Vladimir Popovkin to make proposals along those lines.   "You may propose personnel reshuffle if necessary," the news agency quotes Putin as saying.

Putin put Rogozin in charge of overseeing the space sector last December after a series of six failures in 12 months.  At the time, Putin was Prime Minister and Dmitry Medvedev was President.   Putin had been President previously, but was limited to two terms.  He took the Prime Minister spot while Medvedev was President and after this spring's elections, Putin has returned to the Presidency and Medvedev is Prime Minister.  Both therefore have a long history in running the country and being aware of the growing challenges in the Russian space industry.

Russia's usually reliable launch vehicle fleet has been suffering an unusual number of failures since December 2010.  Another failure of the Proton rocket three weeks ago created the latest calls for reform.  Proton is Russia's largest rocket and key to Russia's success as a global launch services provider.

The head of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which builds Proton, already resigned.  Many wonder if Popovkin's job is safe.   Putin replaced his predecessor, Anatoly Perminov, reportedly as a result of the December 2010 Proton failure that doomed three GLONASS navigation satellites that were particularly significant as they would have completed the 24-satellite constellation, a Putin priority.  An October 2011 launch finally achieved that milestone. 



Dan Goldin on Neil Armstrong, Who "Saved the Soul of America"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 12:13 PM)

On the day when Neil Armstrong is being honored at a private memorial service, former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin praises him as a man whose achievement in walking on the Moon in 1969 "save the soul of America."

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Goldin, who rarely speaks publicly about NASA since he left the agency in 2001, extols Armstrong as "the symbol of all that was good about America on July 20, 1969, his courageous feat representing one of the greatest triumphs ever achieved." 

Goldin goes on to write eloquently about how the Apollo 11 landing affected the future.   He ends by talking about how he witnessed the Mars Curiosity landing and "I knew that NASA still had the right stuff.   NASA is filled with future Neil Armstrongs.... I can think of no greater testimony to the entire Apollo team than to undertake another audacious activity that, although risky, will raise the American spirit and create opportunities for future generations. ... We must reach for the stars."

Armstrong died on Saturday at the age of 82 from complications following heart surgery.

ISS Crew Will Have to Manage Power Usage While Devising Fix for Bolt Problem

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012 (Updated: 30-Aug-2012 07:22 PM)

The six-person crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will have to manage how it uses electrical power for an indeterminate period of time while ground-based experts determine how to fix a recalcitrant bolt that thwarted a repair operation today.

NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide had three main tasks plus one "get ahead" assignment when they began their spacewalk this morning at 7:16 am CT (8:16 am ET).   By the end of their near record-setting venture of 8 hours and 17 minutes, they had completed only one and a half of those tasks.  The problem was a bolt they could not drive into a box containing a replacement Main System Bus Unit (MSBU) that connects the ISS's solar arrays with the station's electric distribution system.

There are eight solar arrays, two connected through each of four MSBUs.   With one MSBU out of commission, the three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese aboard will have to be careful about what systems they have running at any one time.

Williams and Hoshide succeeded in removing the faulty MSBU, which had been supplying power, but could not be commanded.   When the astronauts went to install the new one, however, they were unable to drive one of two bolts into the assemby that secures the MSBU to the station.  

Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide at the end of the space station's robotic arm during today's spacewalk.
Photo credit:  NASA TV.

During a late afternoon press conference after the astronauts were safely back inside the space station, ISS program manager Mike Sufferdini praised them and their ground-based colleagues for trying a number of work-arounds.  In the end, however, the astronauts had to secure the replacement to the ISS with a long duration tie-down strap until a solution is devised.

A timeline for another attempt is up in the air, but Sufferdini said ideally it would occur while NASA astronaut Joe Acaba is still onboard.  He is scheduled to return to Earth on September 16 (Houston time) along with two of the Russian cosmonauts.   He worked closely with Williams and Hoshide from inside the ISS today -- operating the robotic arm -- so keeping that team together for a second attempt will save crew time, Sufferdini said.   First, however, the technical experts will have to determine what to do.  He said hopefully another EVA could take place next week, but could not make any commitment.

Williams and Hoshide did succeed in one of their tasks:  re-routing cables associated with a Russian module that will be launched next year.  They were not able to replace a camera on Canadarm2 or perform a "get ahead" task of placing a cover on the docking port that previously was used for the space shuttle.

NASA to Hold News Conference to Discuss Unsuccessful Spacewalk -- UPDATE 4

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012 (Updated: 30-Aug-2012 05:30 PM)

UPDATE 4:  Just slipped to 5:45 pm ET (4:45 pm CT).

UPDATE 3:   The news conference will be at 5:30 pm ET (4:30 pm CT).  Watch on NASA TV.

UPDATE 2:   The EVA crew is now safely back inside the airlock.  This is the third longest spacewalk, per NASA, at 8 hours 17 minutes.  Time for the news conference still no-earlier-than 5:00 pm ET (4:00 pm CT).

UPDATE:  The time for the news conference has slipped to no earlier than 5:00 pm ET as NASA waits for the two EVA crewmembers to return to the airlock.

ORIGINAL STORY: NASA has scheduled a news conference for no-earlier-than 4:30 pm EDT today to discuss a spacewalk that is still ongoing at the International Space Station (ISS).   NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide were not able to replace a Main Bus Switching Unit because of difficulties in driving the bolts to secure the replacement unit.

Another spacewalk will be needed to complete that task.   The news conference presumably will be carried on NASA TV.  The six-and-a-half hour spacewalk has already reached 7 hours and 40 minutes as the two spacewalkers close up their work for now.

Awesome Photos Show Cassini's Still Got What It Takes to Amaze

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012 (Updated: 30-Aug-2012 03:13 PM)

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover may be all the rage at the moment, but these new images of Saturn and its moon, Titan, show that the Cassini spacecraft still has what it takes to amaze eight years after it arrived in the Saturnian system.

Image Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/SSI

Cassini took the six images to create this mosaic on May 12, 2012 at a distance of 483,000 miles from Titan.  The image shows Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury, crossing the face of Saturn with shadows of Saturn's rings below.    Cassini was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004 with its Huygens probe, built by the European Space Agency (ESA).    Huygens descended through Titan's atmosphere and landed on its surface in 2005.  

Scientists recently noticed a vortex in Titan's atmosphere that has formed over its south pole.  The vortex is visible in the lower part of this image, also taken by Cassini.

Image credit:  NASA/Caltech-JPL/SSI

More photos and information can be found on the Cassini website.

A follow-on mission to study Titan's methane seas lost out to another Mars probe in a recent NASA competition to choose the next Discovery-class planetary exploration project.  Cassini is currently expected to operate through September 2017.   It is the second extension for the mission.   Cassini completed its initial 4-year mission in June 2008 and the first extension took it through September 2010.

Obama Restates Commitment to "Potential" Human Mission to Asteroid as Prelude to Mars

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012 (Updated: 30-Aug-2012 09:07 AM)

President Obama took to the social networking site Reddit yesterday in a question and answer session that included an exchange about the space program.  He said that staying "at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority"  and investments in cutting edge research are needed to enable human trips to Mars preceded by a "potential" mission to an asteroid.

Reddit allows members to engage in "Ask Me Anything" sessions.   Yesterday, the President made a guest appearance saying that he could answer questions for about 30 minutes.    The answers provoke long chains of discussions among the site's members, but Reddit provided a summary of the questions and the President's answers.

Perhaps what is most surprising is that a question about the space program was one of those asked, nestled among politics, sports, beer, and Internet freedom.   The exchange about the space program went as follows:


Are you considering increasing funds to the space program?


Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a [sic] asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.

Qualifying the reference to an asteroid mission as "potential" might suggest that he is less committed to that goal than he was at the time of his April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center.  It was there that he declared an asteroid would be the next destination for the U.S. human spaceflight program.  However, it would be a stretch to draw such a conclusion from a single statement during a Q&A session.

All the questions directed to the President, in the order asked, were the following:

  • why should young people work to get you reelected when they are demoralized due to unemployment;
  • what's the recipe for the White House's beer;
  • how will you end the corrupting influence of money in politics;
  • what was your most difficult decision during this term;
  • what is the first thing you will do on November 7, win or lose;
  • how will you help small businesses;
  • who is your favorite basketball player;
  • will you push the issue of Internet freedom in the Democratic Party's 2012 platform;
  • are you considering increasing funds for the space program;
  • how do you balance family life and hobbies with being President?

Although the President said he would answer questions for about 30 minutes, the New York Times reports that the session lasted a little more than an hour and attracted 30,000 people, causing the site to "buckle under the load."  The newspaper also said the questions were posted "in advance of the president's arrival on the site."

GOP Platform Calls for Sustaining U.S. Preeminence in Space, But Little Else About the Space Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Aug-2012 (Updated: 29-Aug-2012 05:49 PM)

The Republican Party has formally adopted its platform for the 2012 election.   One small section addresses the space program, calling for sustaining American preeminence in space.

The two paragraphs of the 50 page treatise devoted to the space program are part of the section on "Reforming Government to Serve the People" and carries the heading "America's Future in Space:  Continuing This Quest."   The text reads as follows in its entirety.

"The exploration of space has been a key part of U.S. global leadership and has supported innovation and ownership of technology.  Over the last half century, in partnership with our aerospace industry, the work of NASA has helped define and strengthen our nation's technological prowess.  From building the world's most powerful rockets to landing men on the Moon, sending robotic spacecraft throughout our solar system and beyond, building the International Space Station, and launching space-based telescopes that allow scientists to better understand our universe, NASA science and engineering have produced spectacular results. The technologies that emerged from those programs propelled our aerospace industrial base and directly benefit our national security, safety, economy, and quality of life. Through its achievements, NASA has inspired generations of Americans to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, leading to careers that drive our country’s technological and economic engines.

"Today, America’s leadership in space is challenged by countries eager to emulate—and surpass—NASA’s accomplishments. To preserve our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs."

The Space Frontier Foundation, a proponent of private sector space activities and NewSpace was quick to criticize the statement for its government-centric tone.  "NASA seems to be one Big Government program many Republicans love," it said, adding that while other parts of the platform criticize the government as "bloated, antiquated and unresponsive to taxpayers," NASA is spared that characterization. 

The GOP platform does champion entrepreneurship elsewhere in its pages, just not in the section that addresses the space program.

The platform also ignores the national security space sector.  Federal spending on space activities for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community surpasses that for NASA.   The national security section of the GOP platform, entitled American Exceptionalism, goes into some specifics, such as the need for "upgrading ... aircraft and armored vehicles" and "state-of-the-art surveillance, enhanced special operations capabilities and unmanned aerial systems," but makes no explicit mention of national security space assets.  It does say the GOP will "enhance the capabilities of our intelligence community," which in its broadest interpretation could include space systems, but the context in which it is written does not suggest that is what the authors had in mind.

In all fairness, party platforms usually are fairly general documents since they must appeal to a broad range of interests within the party.   Presidential candidate Barack Obama made a number of promises about the space program during his 2008 campaign, but they were not part of the 2008 Democratic party platform.  That document said only that Democrats would "invest in a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration."  By comparison, the 2012 Republican platform devotes an entire two paragraphs to the topic.

We will learn next week what the Democrats say in their 2012 platform about the future of the space program, and as the weeks pass, if the Republican or Democratic presidential nominees have anything more specific to say themselves. 

Stay tuned!



Rediscovering Discovery: A Commentary-Updated

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 28-Aug-2012 (Updated: 29-Aug-2012 09:51 AM) correspondent Laura M. Delgado shares her reaction to visiting the space shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center this weekend in this commentary, updated with photos of Discovery taken during her visit.

IISL Releases Moot Court Problem for 2013 Competition

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2012 (Updated: 28-Aug-2012 06:06 PM)

The International Institute of Space Law (IISL) has released the problem that forms the basis for the upcoming 2013 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court competition.

The annual competition for law school students features four regional rounds in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific.  The winners of the regional rounds compete in semi-final and final competitions in conjunction with the IISL annual colloquium that is held in conjunction with the annual International Astronautical Congresses.   The 2013 collloquium will be in Beijing, China.

This year's problem concerns legal issues that might arise by the abandonment of a lunar installation by one country and the occupation of part of that installation by another country.   More information about the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court competition is available at the IISL's website.


NOAA's GOES-East Shows Isaac As It Is Declared a Hurricane

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2012 (Updated: 28-Aug-2012 04:00 PM)

This image from NOAA's geostationary weather satellite, GOES-East, shows Isaac as its winds surpassed the threshold to move from a Tropical Storm to a Hurricane.

Image credit:  NOAA

The storm is in the Gulf of Mexico (Florida shows clearly on the right) headed for New Orleans.  The image was taken at 1615 GMT (12:15 pm EDT) today.   The storm is moving northwest at 10 miles per hour with sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.  It is currently expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane (wind speeds of 74-95 mph).  Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana could experience storm surges of 6-12 feet above ground level if the peak surge occurs at high tide.  Rainfall of 7-14 inches is expected, with possible isolated amounts of 20 inches according to NOAA's 1:00 pm CDT (2:00 pm EDT) public advisory today.

For warnings related to the storm, see NOAA's National Hurricane Center.

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